Proposition 187 is approved in California

Year
1994
Month Day
November 08

On November 8, 1994, 59 percent of California voters approve Proposition 187, banning undocumented immigrants from using the state’s major public services. Despite its wide margin of victory, the ballot measure never takes effect.

In 1994, California, the home of Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, was not yet the Democratic stronghold many now consider it to be. A popular destination for immigrants from both Latin America and Asia, its demographics changed dramatically in the second half of the century, but neither Republicans nor Democrats won a decisive share of these newcomers’ votes. That would change after a group of Republican activists and state-level legislators, responding to the state’s economic slump and the presence of over a million undocumented immigrants, decided to launch the campaign for what became Prop 187. In the name of saving taxpayer money, the proposition prohibited the undocumented from accessing basic public services such as non-emergency health care and both primary and secondary education. It also required public servants like medical professionals and teachers to monitor and report on the immigration status of those under their charge.

Although public support was high from the start, the threat of barring over a million California residents from basic public services stirred up vocal opposition. As Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s campaign used the threat of immigration in an attempt to scare voters, 70,000 people marched against 187 in downtown Los Angeles, and 10,000 public school students walked out of class on November 2, just days before the vote. The measure’s passage on November 8 was an entirely symbolic and short-lived victory for conservatives.

Within a week, a legal challenge had prevented the new law from taking effect—it was held up in the appeals process until 1999, when a Democratic governor dropped the state’s appeal. Studies have since shown that Proposition 187 played a key role in galvanizing immigrants’ rights activists and pushing Latinx and Asian voters away from the California Republican Party. Over the next decade, 66 percent of newly-registered California voters were Latinx and another 23 percent were Asian. In the same period, Republicans went from holding roughly half of elected offices in the state to less than a quarter. California has since formally repealed Prop 187 and enacted some of the United States’ most sweeping protections for the undocumented.

READ MORE: US Immigration Timeline

Source

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) signed into law

Year
1990
Month Day
July 26

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the most sweeping affirmation of rights for the disabled in American history at the time, into law.

As disability rights attorney Arlene Mayerson would later write, the story of the ADA began “when people with disabilities began to challenge societal barriers that excluded them from their communities, and when parents of children with disabilities began to fight against the exclusion and segregation of their children.” Activists explicitly compared their struggle to the Civil Rights movement, arguing that without federal requirements in place, the disabled faced discrimination both as patrons of public spaces and businesses and in seeking employment. In 1986, the National Council on Disability, an independent government agency, issued a report that reached the same conclusion, highlighting the many gaps in federal law that made full participation in society and equal opportunities for employment impossible for many disabled Americans.

Thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of Patrisha Wright, cofounder of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, federal legislation similar to a version of the Civil Rights Act for the disabled gained support in the late 80s. The eventual bill, the ADA, covered a wide range of physical and mental disabilities. The bulk of the act provides legal recourse against employers who discriminate against the disabled and set standards of access to public buildings and public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, etc.). It also established federal laws regarding service animals, among other things. 

In March of 1990, a group of disability rights activists staged the Capitol Crawl, in which disabled people pulled themselves up all 100 steps of the Capitol building in order to highlight the nation’s lack of accessibility. Despite pressure from some church groups, who felt the ADA unfairly burdened them, the bill passed the House by unanimous voice vote and the Senate 76-6, paving the way for its signing on July 26 by President Bush, who said, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

READ MORE: When the ‘Capitol Crawl’ Dramatized the Need for Americans with Disabilities Act

Source

Clean Air Act becomes law

On December 17, 1963, one of the first major pieces of environmental legislation in the United States becomes law. The Clean Air Act empowers federal and state agencies to research and regulate air pollution, marking a major expansion of government efforts to fight back against the damage being done to the climate.

A 1955 law, the Air Pollution Control Act, had allocated $15 million to the study of air pollution across the country. As the federal government and the states conducted this research, it became clear that further legislation would be needed. After passing through Congress relatively swiftly, a stronger act was signed into law on December 17, 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been in power for less than a month following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The landmark act and its subsequent amendments—updates were passed in 1967, 1970, 1977 and 1990—comprise some of the most comprehensive air-quality legislation in the world. Shortly after its creation in 1970, the EPA began using its powers under the CAA to set quality standards for areas affected by air pollution, and it has subsequently been invoked to ban specific harmful chemicals and tackle specific environmental problems such as acid rain or the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which directly contributed to the “hole” in the Ozone Layer. Though there is a very long way to go, national emissions dropped 63% between 1980 and 2015, despite overall economic growth and an increase in the number of miles driven over that time, thanks largely to the provisions of the Clean Air Act and its successors.

READ MORE: Climate Change History

Source

Clean Water Act becomes law

Year
1972
Month Day
October 18

The Clean Water Act becomes law on October 18, 1972. After centuries of reckless treatment of American rivers, streams, lakes and bays, the landmark act institutes strict regulations on pollution and quality controls for the nation’s waters for the first time in its history.

The ’60s had been marked by some truly horrific revelations regarding water pollution. A 1968 survey revealed that pollution in the Chesapeake Bay resulted in millions of dollars of lost revenue for fisherman, while a 1969 study found that bacteria levels in the Hudson River to be at 170 times the legal limit. The same year, pollution from local food processing plants killed 26 million fish in one lake in Florida, the largest fish kill on record, and an oil slick resulted in an infamous fire on the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland. When President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, it was clear that water pollution would be one of its top priorities.

Though Nixon was generally very proactive on environmental issues, he vetoed the Clean Water Act, even after it sailed through both houses of Congress, on the grounds that its price tag was too high. The legislature overruled his veto the following morning, and the bill became law on October 18, 1972. The CWA mandated the protection of any waters in the country with a “significant nexus” to navigable waters. It established a framework for identifying, licensing, and enforcing standards on originators of “point source pollution,” contamination stemming from a single point like a factory or sewage treatment plant. It also contained many other provisions for finding, regulating and cleaning up water pollution, giving most of these responsibilities to the recently-created EPA. 

Since the CWA took effect, levels of pollution have greatly decreased, although many environmentalists believe it did not do enough to control non-point source pollution, the kind of contamination that cannot be traced back to a single origin. Though the CWA clearly had a positive impact, a high percentage of American waterways still do not meet the water quality standards it set forth. 

Source

Endangered Species Act signed into law

On December 28, 1973, President Richard Nixon signs the Endangered Species Act into law. The act, which Nixon called for the previous year, is considered one of the most significant and influential environmental laws in American history.

The government started taking action to protect endangered species in the early 1900s, as it became apparent that hunting, industry and deforestation were capable of wiping out entire species. The near-extinction of the bison, once extremely common in North America, provided ample evidence that such protections were necessary, as did the death of the last passenger pigeon in 1901. Early acts of Congress focused mostly on animals that were commonly hunted, and although the Department of the Interior began publishing a list of endangered species in 1967, it did not have the adequate powers to help animals in need.

READ MORE: How Nixon Became the Unlikely Champion of the Endangered Species Act

Recognizing the need for proactive legislation, Nixon asked Congress to expand protections. The result was the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Among other things, it mandated that the federal government keep a list of all species in need of protection, prohibited federal agencies from jeopardizing such species or their habitats, and empowered the government to do more to protect wildlife. Though the Act only applied to the actions of the federal government, it was wildly successful. In its first 30 years, the less than one percent of the plants and animals added to the Endangered Species List went extinct, while more than 100 showed a 90 percent recovery rate. Over 200,000 acres of crucial habitats have also been protected under the act. The ESA is widely regarded as the strongest endangered species law in the world, and one of the most successful pieces of environmental legislation in history.

Source

Environmental Protection Agency opens

On December 2, 1970, a new federal agency opens its doors. Created in response to the dawning realization that human activity can have major effects on the planet, the Environmental Protection Agency heralded a new age of government action on behalf of the environment.

Concerns about pollution and other environmental issues began creeping into the American consciousness in the 1950s and 60s. The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a watershed moment for American environmental awareness, as were a major oil spill that affected California beaches and the burning of Ohio’s heavily-polluted Cuyahoga River in 1969. That same year, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act, which mandated that government agencies compile environmental statistics and produce environmental impact statements before proceeding with projects that could affect the environment. Given the number of offices across the executive branch that were now tasked with enforcing environmental regulations, President Richard Nixon decided in July of 1970 to create a single agency to deal with environmental issues, and the EPA was born.

READ MORE: The Shocking River Fire That Fueled the Creation of the EPA

The EPA was flooded with resumes from environmentalists excited by the idea that the government would finally act on their concerns. It opened with 5,8000 employees and a budget of $1.4 billion, led by former Justice Department lawyer William Ruckelshaus. Conscious of the importance of establishing the new administration’s authority, Ruckelshaus acted aggressively to enforce the Clean Water Act, secure a ban on the pesticide DDT, and prosecute the corporations responsible for polluting the Cuyahoga. Thanks to his efforts, the EPA has maintained its role as a strong enforcer, and the position of EPA Administrator is considered cabinet-level despite the EPA not technically being a cabinet agency. Like all federal agencies, however, it is only as powerful as the executive allows—after years of relatively aggressive action on climate change, the EPA deleted almost all references to the global climate crisis from its website after President Donald Trump took office.

Source

George W. Bush describes Iraq, Iran and North Korea as “axis of evil”

On January 29, 2002, in his first State of the Union address since the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush describes Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil.”

Just over a year into his presidency and several months into a war which would eventually become the longest in American history, Bush identified the three countries as the major nodes of a wide-ranging and highly dangerous network of terrorists and other bad actors threatening the United States. The speech outlined the logic behind Bush’s “War on Terror,” a series of military engagements which would define U.S. foreign policy for the next two decades.

Bush speechwriter David Frum is credited with coining the term “axis of evil,” which was meant to evoke the Axis powers against which the United States and its allies fought in World War II. The Bush administration wanted to emphasize the outstanding threat posed by these three “terror states,” arguing that each was in the process of building weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. Bush’s father, former president George H.W. Bush, had invaded Iraq in 1990 after repelling the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait, but left Saddam Hussein in power. 

After 9/11, George W. Bush’s administration waited less than a month before invading Afghanistan and deposing the Taliban regime there. It was not long before Bush turned his attention to “regime change” in Iraq. Although there were no direct links between Iraq, Iran and North Korea—Iraq and Iran, in fact, were commonly understood to be geopolitical enemies—the concept of an “axis of evil” united in its desire to harm Americans proved useful to those making the case for a second invasion of Iraq.

READ MORE: A Timeline of the U.S.-Led War on Terror

Source

Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks at UN, justifies US invasion of Iraq


Year
2003
Month Day
February 05

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gives a speech to the United Nations that is both highly consequential and full of fabrications on February 5, 2003. Using talking points that many within his own government had told him were either misleading or outright lies, Powell outlined the United States’ case that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, making the argument for the invasion that would happen the following month. Powell has called it a “blot” on his record.

President George W. Bush‘s administration contained several prominent officials, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, who had advocated for the First Gulf War and were known proponents of a second invasion of Iraq. Soon after a group of mostly-Saudi terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, a movement began within the Bush administration to remove Iraq’s leader, the dictator Saddam Hussein, from power, on the grounds that he was connected to the attacks. Powell was not among this clique—according to him, he warned Bush in August of 2002 that removing Hussein might be easy but turning Iraq into a stable, friendly democracy would not be. At Powell’s urging, Bush took his case to the United Nations, leading to the decision to send inspectors into the country to search for “weapons of mass destruction.” The inspectors found no proof of such weapons, but Congress nonetheless authorized Bush to use military force against Iraq in October of 2002. According to Powell, Bush had already decided to do so before sending Powell to the UN.

Powell claimed he was delivering “facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence” as he told the UN that Iraq possessed biological weapons. He knew this to be a lie. He had reportedly received the text of the speech four days before it was to be given, during which time the State Department’s intelligence bureau had raised a host of red flags. Powell’s employees had identified many key claims as “weak,” “not credible,” or “highly questionable.” Among these questionable assertions were the claims that Iraqi officials had ordered biological weapons removed ahead of UN searches, that Iraq’s conventional missiles appeared fit to carry chemical weapons, and that Hussein possessed mobile labs capable of producing anthrax and other toxins. The speech cherry-picked testimony from various Iraqi sources, omitting that Hussein’s son-in-law, who had been in charge of Iraq’s WMD program before defecting in 1995, had testified that Iraq had destroyed all of its chemical weapons after the First Gulf War.

Powell’s speech may not have launched the invasion, which began in March, but it justified it to the American public and provided cover for the U.S. with the international community. Though the UN maintained that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, the Bush administration and allies like Tony Blair’s government in Britain felt that Powell’s speech had done the job. In addition to selling the war on false pretenses, it also had a disastrous unintended consequence: Powell made 21 mentions of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, calling him the link between Hussein and the Al-Qaeda network that had plotted the 9/11 attacks. In reality, the term Al-Qaeda had not been used by any of its alleged members until after 9/11; it was, in fact, a loose network of likeminded radicals that only congealed into a distinct organization after the United States targeted it. Likewise, Zarqawi had had only fleeting contact with the network before Powell’s speech. After the speech, however, Zarqawi began to amass a stronger following within Iraq, where he became a notorious insurgent leader and greatly escalated the guerrilla war against the United States into an all-out sectarian conflict.

Source

WikiLeaks publishes the first documents leaked by Chelsea Manning


Year
2010
Month Day
February 18

On February 18, 2010, a relatively obscure website called WikiLeaks publishes a leaked diplomatic cable detailing discussions between American diplomats and Icelandic government officials. The leak of “Reikjavik13” barely registered with the public, but it was the first of what turned out to be nearly 750,000 sensitive documents sent to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning. Manning is now considered one of the most prolific and significant whistleblowers in American history, as her leaks shed light on atrocities committed by American armed forces, painted a far grimmer picture of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and greatly embarrassed the United States’ diplomatic establishment.

Manning, an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, was deployed to Iraq in October of 2009. Her job gave her access to all manner of classified and sensitive information from various organs of state. On January 5th, 2010, she began downloading massive amounts of material, starting with 400,000 documents pertaining to the Iraq War. Manning put the information on a CD marked “Lady Gaga” in order to smuggle it home and upload it to her personal computer. On leave in the United States, she shopped the information to both The New York Times and The Washington Post but neither took an interest. She began sending material to WikiLeaks in early February, but again got no response.

Then, on February 18, Manning sent WikiLeaks the cable known as “Reykjavik13.” The site published it within hours. Manning later said that she felt the cable depicted the U.S. government “bullying” the government of Iceland, and hoped that the leak would put pressure on the U.S. to lend economic assistance. The incident would have been a tiny historical footnote if not for the leaks that followed. Throughout the spring of 2010, WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of documents leaked by Manning, oftentimes via The New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian

The diplomatic cables contained frank discussions of policy and American descriptions of foreign leaders, many of whom found cause to be offended, but other leaks revealed shocking truths about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning and WikiLeaks released multiple accounts and even videos of U.S. airstrikes that killed civilians, and the information they disclosed led watchdogs to estimate that American armed forces were responsible for over 10,000 more civilian deaths than they had officially acknowledged. As a whole, the leaks showed that the wars were not only going much worse than the government led the populace to believe, but that the scope of the humanitarian disaster was larger as well.

Manning was arrested in May of 2010 and was eventually sentenced to 35 years in military prison, which many called an extremely harsh sentence for a whistleblower. President Barack Obama stopped short of pardoning her but commuted her sentence in January of 2017, just three days before leaving office. She received international acclaim from free speech and anti-war activists, and is now known as a one of the most significant whistleblowers in U.S. history.

READ MORE: The United States Began Protecting Whistleblowers in 1777

Source

Vice President Agnew resigns

Year
1973
Month Day
October 10

Less than a year before Richard M. Nixon’s resignation as president of the United States, Spiro Agnew becomes the first U.S. vice president to resign in disgrace. The same day, he pleaded no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion in exchange for the dropping of charges of political corruption. He was subsequently fined $10,000, sentenced to three years probation, and disbarred by the Maryland court of appeals.

Agnew, a Republican, was elected chief executive of Baltimore County in 1961. In 1967, he became governor of Maryland, an office he held until his nomination as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1968. During Nixon’s successful campaign, Agnew ran on a tough law-and-order platform, and as vice president he frequently attacked opponents of the Vietnam War and liberals as being disloyal and un-American. Reelected with Nixon in 1972, Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, after the U.S. Justice Department uncovered widespread evidence of his political corruption, including allegations that his practice of accepting bribes had continued into his tenure as U.S. vice president. He died at the age of 77 on September 17, 1996.

Under the process decreed by the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, President Nixon was instructed to the fill vacant office of vice president by nominating a candidate who then had to be approved by both houses of Congress. Nixon’s appointment of Representative Gerald Ford of Michigan was approved by Congress and, on December 6, Ford was sworn in. He became the 38th president of the United States on August 9, 1974, after the escalating Watergate affair caused Nixon to resign.

READ MORE: What Is the 25th Amendment?

Source